Online instruction: Tips from educators making the switch

Keeping students (and teachers) moving ahead in learning
By: | March 30, 2020
(Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash)(Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash)
Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist and featured FETC speaker.

Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist and featured FETC speaker.

For Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, I asynchronously teach graduate student educators in instructional media. I have taught 45 classes over the past nine years, and based on student feedback, and what has gone wrong, I have figured out what works best for my audience. My students, who are primarily practicing educators, all have computers and robust internet access, and many times, they have taken previous courses and know how to use learning management systems. 

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing K-12 school closures, every district has its own concerns about digital equity and the digital divide, so that has put more strain on how teachers can teach. So who I am to give advice to teachers who have to fly by the seat of their pants right now, adhering to district guidelines and federal mandates? 

I feel teachers are most concerned with the well-being of their students. They are providing work to keep students moving ahead in learning. They are adding more real-world assignments to keep students engaged. They are using email, text and Twitter to keep in touch. Some are allowed to use, and have taken advantage of, synchronous videoconferencing.

Because I am teaching K-12 teachers who are going through all of this right now, I am sharing the thoughts, ideas, solutions and feelings of three here, in their own words.


Read: How to propel social-emotional learning in online education


Jacqueline Rhoads, English teacher, North Hunterdon High School, North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District (N.J.)

Transitioning to virtual instruction has been one of the most challenging experiences of my career. Of course, I no longer have to sit in traffic, I can use the restroom whenever I’d like, and my lunches are longer than 24 minutes—but teaching from home has been a major adjustment. 

On March 16, the plan was to be out of school for two weeks. So on day one of virtual instruction, I sent my students a learning contract for 14 days. This contract included my office hours; a list of material to be studied; our learning objectives; essential questions; and a chronological checklist of assignments, due dates and optional Zoom meetings. 

There is a good deal of self-directed learning in this model, and many of my students are thriving in this less-restricted environment. 

Using Google Classroom, I post their assignments on Monday to be completed by Sunday. There is a good deal of self-directed learning in this model, and many of my students are thriving in this less-restricted environment. The Guardian feature on Google Classroom has been fundamental in keeping parents involved and making sure that all students are virtually present. Overall, my goal is to be 100 percent transparent with my students and to hopefully bring them some solace and comfort during this uncertain time.  

At this point, the reopening of school will be determined by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Rikki Savidge, third-grade teacher, Brandywine Heights Elementary School, Brandywine Heights Area School District (Pa.)

A few weeks ago, before this pandemic started, I was writing a paper for a master’s course about incorporating creativity into teaching. We had learned that because students have been using media more often, it has changed the way our students learn. Although many districts have incorporated 1-to-1 device programs, our style of teaching had not really changed. 

This recent change to online learning has been an inspiring switch. I see it as a challenge to use technology to bring out these 21st-century skills that our students need, such as: embracing challenges, producing and considering many alternatives, collaborating, and communicating.

This is our time to shine as teachers and prove to the world that paper and pencil is no longer the only way our students can learn.

Throughout the school year, I used Google Classroom to push out many activities to my students. Since my students already know how to use this program, it has made the switch to online learning quite easy. I teach third grade, so parent communication is still paramount. I have been using the Bloomz app to communicate with parents on group and individual levels. Our district will not officially switch to online learning until April 1, but when they do, I plan to use these programs as my main form of communication. I have also found that Zoom can be a great way to connect to your class face to face to continue close connections with students. 


Read: Keeping up connections


Many teachers have been overwhelmed over the past few years with “teaching to the test” and keeping up with rigorous curriculum expectations. This is our time to shine as teachers and prove to the world that paper and pencil is no longer the only way our students can learn. We have a chance to prove that we can shift education to encourage creativity, embrace challenges, and collaborate with others on projects that will cover the same objectives as worksheets. The only difference is that this time, students will be inspired and engaged to show their understanding.

I encourage everyone to take this time to reflect how we can take this opportunity to make a change in education and get our students excited about learning once again. 

Alexis Rausch, fourth-grade teacher, Fred J. Jaindl Elementary School, Parkland School District (Pa.)

The possibility of online teaching has become tangible for me as we rely heavily on a districtwide LMS. Schoology has allowed me to stay connected with my students via digital conferences (similar to FaceTime); to upload assignments and worksheets with Kami attachments; and to embed online tools, including Nearpod and EdPuzzle. 

My kiddos are 10, so they need a lot of coaching with these materials prior to use. That’s been the hardest part in all of this. Thank goodness for videoconferences.

Our teachers are developing lesson plans on a week-by-week basis. We post our plans on Monday morning, and students have until Friday to complete their weekly work. My fourth-grade teaching team has used Zoom to plan learning objectives and what we want each weekly goal to look like for our kids.

We are experimenting with many different tools, and are communicating with our families via classroom social media app Bloomz. One tool may be tried one week and then put to the side the next week depending on our goal. My kiddos are 10, so they need a lot of coaching with these materials prior to use. That’s been the hardest part in all of this. Thank goodness for videoconferences and Screencastify.


Read: Updated: 73 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic


What makes my heart so happy is, in times of crisis, so many e-learning resources and websites are providing access to their tools for free to help educators and students continue learning. It’s great to see people coming together during such a trying time. 


Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist and FETC featured speaker. She is also an adjunct professor at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania for the Master of Science in education degree with a major in instructional media program, which is fully online and offered in collaboration with Discovery Education.


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